A bill that creates staffing committees at New York hospitals to assess guidelines for per patient staffing levels was signed into a law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday, marking a key win for the union that represents nurses in the state that have long argued the need to address the issue.

The bill comes after the COVID-19 pandemic strained hospital resources with a rapid influx of patients who were sickened with the virus and needed specialized wings to prevent further spread of the virus. New cases and hospitalizations have fallen significantly in the last several weeks as more people are vaccinated.

"The COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented strain on New York State's hospital systems and revealed a host of issues with regard to staffing and the effective allocation of resources," Cuomo said. "This legislation requires hospitals to create committees that include the very same staff who treat patients on the ground every single day and come up with plans that take their concerns into consideration when allocating staff. We need to make sure nurses and ancillary staff have a voice in their hospitals, and these new requirements will make sure they collaboratively plan for the future."

The new law will create clinical staffing committees at general hospitals, composed of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, ancillary staff members who provide direct care and hospital administrators. The committees will be required to develop staffing plans and specific guidelines for how many patients are assigned to each nurse and how many ancillary staff are assigned in each unit.

Plans must be adopted by the committee and sent to the state Department of Health by July 1, 2022. The measure also includes the creation of an advisory commission to determine the effectiveness of the staffing committees.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how understaffing in our hospitals can lead to a dangerous environment for patients and workers," said Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee. "New Yorkers deserve safe and appropriate levels of staffing at every hospital across our state. This bill will set new standards to improve patient safety and enhance quality care for all those New Yorkers being served at these facilities."

But even prior to the pandemic, labor unions that represent nurses and health care workers had pointed to staffing levels as a key concern in hospitals in New York.

The measure was cheered by the New York State Nurses Association, the labor group that represents nurses in hospitals across the state. The organization also backed the approval of a minimum staffing levels bill, calling the approval of both "a giant step forward" for patients and health care workers.

“When hospitals and nursing homes fail to staff to safe standards, it’s the patients and residents who suffer," said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, the group's president. "These new laws have the potential to significantly improve the quality of care, to prevent the serious complications that result from understaffing, and to begin to address the gross inequities that exist in our health care system."